The best picture books that teach great life lessons without being preachy

Jennifer Carson Author Of Dragons Don't Dance Ballet
By Jennifer Carson

Who am I?

We tell stories for many reasons, but one of the best reasons is to teach our kids (or remind ourselves!) how to navigate in the world. We’ve all read Aesop’s Fables and at the end, the moral lesson is spelled out. This ruins the conversations you can have with someone else about what the story was about. Instead of feeling entertained, we feel like we were being told what to think and how to feel. As a writer, I love to include multiple themes in a book so that, depending on the age of the reader, or how many times the story is read, new ideas jump out of the book and into your brain.


I wrote...

Dragons Don't Dance Ballet

By Jennifer Carson,

Book cover of Dragons Don't Dance Ballet

What is my book about?

Esmerelda Dragon works the spotlight at the Metropolitan Ballet but what she really wants to do is dance. Encouraged by her friend, Harold, to audition, Esmerelda takes a leap of faith only to discover that she doesn’t quite fit in with the other ballerinas. But Esmerelda isn't ready to give up—and neither is Harold!

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Wordy Birdy

By Tammi Sauer, Dave Mottram (illustrator),

Book cover of Wordy Birdy

Why this book?

I like to chat, and like most other people, whether it’s because I’m thinking about something else, or busy, or just simply not paying attention, sometimes I “listen,” but I don’t “hear.” Wordy Birdy is a fun read with a great reminder about why it is so important to listen to others and pay attention to our surroundings. 


The Errant Knight

By Ann Tompert, Doug Keith (illustrator),

Book cover of The Errant Knight

Why this book?

This beautifully illustrated book gently teaches that an act of kindness is always returned ten-fold. While my youngest child may not understand the biggest lesson in this book until he reads it to his own children, he did understand that helping others is always a good deed, and that sometimes we have to delay fulfilling our own wants and put others before ourselves. I read this book to my children over and over again, not only because we loved knights and tales of medieval times, but because the book has so much heart and soul in it, that it begs to be taken off the shelf.


The Sea Lion's Friend

By Ed Shankman, Dave O'Neill (illustrator),

Book cover of The Sea Lion's Friend

Why this book?

Everyone needs a good friend and often when we make a new friend it invites others into our lives as well. This sweet rhyming book teaches a great lesson about what makes a good friend—and it’s not because they look just like you and like doing all the things you like doing—but revels in the differences that make each friend unique and celebrates the things friends do share in common. 


The Dirty Cowboy

By Amy Timberlake,

Book cover of The Dirty Cowboy

Why this book?

One word: hilarious! In typical tall tale fashion, The Dirty Cowboy teaches a humorous lesson about keeping our body clean. As the mother of 4 boys, it was easy to draw parallels in my children’s lives and the cowboy in the book in order to coax them into the bathtub…even if it would take a good roll in the dirt the next day to get the dog to recognize them again.


The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs

By Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith (illustrator),

Book cover of The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs

Why this book?

Everyone knows the story of the three little pigs…or do you? I love this book because it teaches us that when we change our perspective, we see a new side of a story. Looking at something from a different angle helps develop compassion and empathy for others, which is a great thing for everyone, not just the kids! Plus, the book is funny, and who doesn’t like funny?


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in knights, dogs, and wolves?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about knights, dogs, and wolves.

Knights Explore 35 books about knights
Dogs Explore 239 books about dogs
Wolves Explore 64 books about wolves

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Hit by a Flying Wolf: True Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation and Real Life with Dogs and Wolves, How Rocket Learned to Read, and White Fang if you like this list.